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By Staff | Aug 10, 2012

Another week and to many farmers in the state and Midwest one more week in which to watch their crops go downhill.

To those who have a firm grasp on what the implications are in store for farmers, livestock operators, industrial grain users and importers of U.S. grain if and when we end up with a dramatically short crop corn, soybean, alfalfa and hay crop, they know to expect a lot of fireworks and gnashing of teeth in the coming year.

Too often the media has portrayed this shortfall as being one of inconvenience and a 3 percent food price increase. The issue may be availability in segments of the food supply.

We have heard of the dramatic and sudden surge in dumping of meat animals and shift in profitability when the grain prices soared after their acres burned up in the heat. A few more commodity forecasters are recognizing that carryout numbers for the 2012/2013 season will get as close to zero as ever and in an early time frame than expected.

Crop ratings

Most state crop ratings for corn and beans continued on their downward slide. Currently Illinois is rated at 4 percent good to excellent. Iowa is at 16 percent, Indiana is at 7 percent and Nebraska is at a lofty 35 percent.

So the average of the big four corn producing states is an unweighted 15.5 percent. In a year where the experts were telling all farmers that sub $4 corn was on the horizon and they should sell early, seeing the opposite happen proves that being a Doubting Thomas is not all bad.

Does anyone expect the USDA’s guesstimate of 146 bushels per acre to hold up? Knowledgeable crops people in a number of high yield counties don’t expect their county averages to reach that plateau.

Remember that corn used to stay green thrugh September 20. Turning brown so early in 2009, 2010, 2011 and now 2012 because of disease or poor stress tolerance is a threat to U.S. food security and the economy…

I mentioned last week that anyone who thinks they can accurately guess the final yield on a field of varying soil types and topography has got to be very, very good. Unless one gets into a complex algorithm survey there is just no way to gauge yields in many fields until the combines start to roll.

Last week I was showing a Brazilian visitor around northern and central Iowa to look at a few plots. He had heard about and seen pictures of our affected fields and wanted his picture taken in front of one of them.

We stopped at a field along Iowa Highway 330 northwest of Des Moines. The corn plants were 8 to 10 feet tall and showed a bit of green. The ears looked to be plentiful with good size. The husks were brown and the kernels were mostly dented.

From the windshield estimate the corn looked capable of producing 170 to 190 bpa. When we pulled the husks down on the ears in the outside row they looked more capable of yielding 70 to 80 bpa.

So I led Alex a few rows into the field to pull a few more husks down to show the kernel count. What we saw were ears that looked capable of yielding 20 and 40 bpa. Looks can be deceiving. Fields with not able to hold enough moisture got much hotter in their interior. Fields with diminished water holding capacity and lower biological activity generally failed in their attempts to support a corn crop later into the season.

I am still walking corn fields this week and likely for a few more weeks yet. What I have seen lately in central and northern Iowa have been plants where 8 to 22 rings of kernels on the ear tips have aborted back.

Pollination generally went very well. But the two weeks following pollination were not kind to photosynthates production and those kernels that were still in the blister or early milk stage were not retained.

Another noted item is that many fields and important plots are still showing about 20 percent unproductive plants. How good were the germs this spring?

As an aside, in fields with varying soil types and topography the ear sizes will vary a lot. It could place a large value on corn heads that have automatically adjusting spring loaded stripper plates.

A good question

One question that has been posed to me more than once is, “How do the traited hybrids and varieties compare to conventional varieties when it comes to heat and drought tolerance?” That is a very good and pertinent question. And the answer is that no scientist from the U.S. has conducted such trials, written articles on it and published the data. There was a visiting scientist who did trials on water use efficiency of traited versus non-traited varieties. His findings were surprising, but appear to be occurring in the fields this summer.

Growers are running their own comparisons on their farms to test the different theories. They want to know themselves and recognize that it is an important item. It has been easy to drive down the road looking at the variety designation signs parked in front of a field and make notes on whether the field is green or brown and then surmise what the drought tolerance or WUE of those varieties.

That worked remarkably well last summer when I had to drive across Illinois four times in early through late August. There were lots of biological and genetic interactions and shortfalls occurring that went beyond the moisture shortage, soil types, tillage depth and fertility regime.

In Iowa and Nebraska the benefits of applying biologicals like are showing up.

In two or three weeks we will start putting numbers on some of those management steps as harvest will be started by then.

The big wind

One Midwest meteorologist predicted a noticeable rain event during the July 21 to 25 time frame. That event brought rain amounts of 0.2 to 1.7 inches across parts of Iowa and Nebraska, along with 75 mph winds.

The morning after the degree of lodging in the corn was startling. In an area from U.S. Highway 30 north to U.S. Highway 18, there were many fields where big patches or entire fields were flattened. At a time when many farmers were questioning the wisdom of spending any more dollars on crop inputs on their fields they also had to wonder if harvesting the corn was something they even wanted to attempt.

Surveying the damage and evaluating what happened has been difficult. First of all growers wanted to know if the plants would stand up again.

The answer was “maybe a little bit, but after tasseling more plants don’t form new roots.” The next question was the effect on yield.

To answer that we could refer to root lodging that occurred in 1987 east of Carroll and near Marshalltown in 2002. When corn blew over in those two situations the weather following the event varied widely.

In 1987 the hot, dry, and calm conditions allowed the plants to bake, which hurt yields by 40 to 50 percent. In 2002 the event was followed by cool temps with adequate rainfall and gentle breezes nearly every day. Yields were still above 200 bpa.

Coming to firm conclusions on what genetic families were most affected was almost impossible. Instead what was more noticeable was that shallow roots caused more corn to have desiccated or died, leaving it more susceptible to lodging. At the same time some of the greener and healthier corn seemed to have caught more wind and also tip. Go figure.

Remember earlier this summer when I mentioned that a sharp seed corn consultant, agronomist type who has studied roots for quite a few years related his findings that most plants were about one third short in root mass and root number.

Rootless corn is more likely to never catch up in root growth. This had to be a factor in the late lodging.

As to getting rain now, it is too late to impact many corn plants as much on yield once they have reached full dent.

A few more pounds and bushels of grain can be deposited, but not like what could have been contributed two weeks ago. Any rain would be a big boost to soybean yields. The bean plants in many fields are very short on pod number on the lower one-third of the plant.

Rain would slow or halt additional pod abortion. There are quite a few fields that are not going to come close to the projected 39 bpa. Filling the terminal clusters would be very helpful to reach that goal.

Spider mites have not disappeared and won’t until the temperature and moisture situations change. If you have not checked your fields using a 24- to 30-X lens, you still need to get that done.

If your mite populations are just starting to build or rebound, they may need to be monitored and possibly sprayed. A 12 to 18 bpa yield benefits at $15 per b ushel is huge.

A second application may be needed for the first sprayed fields.

Dr. Ford Baldwin is in the state this week to speak. He is well versed on how the fight against glyphosate-tolerant weeds is going in the Delta states and is going to give his recommendations on what needs to be done to control such plants with products that are now available to us.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.

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